Published: 28 April 2022
Author: Jacquie Bloese
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Reading dates: 2-6 May 2022
In Nazi-occupied Guernsey, the wrong decision can destroy a life…
Left profoundly deaf after an accident, Émile is no stranger to isolation – or heartbreak. Now, as Nazi planes loom over Guernsey, he senses life is about to change forever.
Trapped in a tense, fearful marriage, Isabelle doesn’t know what has become of Émile and the future she hoped for. But when she glimpses him from the window of the French House, their lives collide once more.
Lieutenant Schreiber is more comfortable wielding a paintbrush than a pistol. But he has little choice in the role he is forced to play in the occupying forces – or in his own forbidden desires.
As their paths entwine, loyalties are blurred and dangerous secrets forged. But on an island under occupation, courage can have deadly consequences…
The French House begins in Vancouver in 1911 where Émile has travelled for work in the hope of securing a better life. He desperately misses his fiancé Isabelle, whom he hasn’t heard from for several months but still keeps writing to her. When an accident leaves him badly injured and deaf, he returns to Guernsey, to find Isabelle married to someone else.
The book then moves back to Guernsey in 1940 and Émile is unhappily married to Letty with two teenage daughters, Maud and Stella. With the occupation of Guernsey by the Germans, Émile finds himself working in the gardens of the French House, the previous home of Víctor Hugo, where Isabelle works as a housekeeper, and things are understandably difficult between them given their history.
Isabelle herself is unhappily married to controlling and abusive Ron and as part of the occupation, they are made to take in Lieutenant Schrieber which adds tension to the household. Isabelle herself can’t help but feel maternal to Schrieber, who is kind to her and when Émile discovers a secret about Schrieber, Isabelle and Émile find themselves thrown together again, in their attempts to help the German.
It was interesting to read about the occupation of Guernsey during the Second World War which I previously read about in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society. Although the German occupation, meant the island residents were spared the bombings of mainland Britain, food was still scarce and the islanders still lived in fear, as every move was scrutinised.
I have to say in the beginning I didn’t find either Émile or Isabelle very sympathetic characters. I felt Émile treated Letty badly, but as the book progressed and we find out more about what happened over the time they were apart, I warmed to both of them, but I still felt sorry for Letty.
It was interesting also to read about a disabled character. I found it difficult to recall many other books that have characters with physical disabilities and Émile’s deafness is a source of frustration in his marriage. He is able to lip read to some extent but often conversations pass him by.
I really enjoyed The French House, being completely transported back to 1940s Guernsey, and being able to picture the French House and the island perfectly – it is somewhere I would love to visit. It is a well paced story and a great piece of historical fiction.
Thank you to Steven Cooper for inviting me on the blog tour and for my copy of the book. Please check out the other blogger reviews below:
About the author
Jacquie grew up on the Channel Island of Guernsey, an upbringing which provided lots of inspiration for her debut novel, The French House. Her interest in travel, languages and other cultures led to a career in ELT publishing, a job which has taken her in and out of classrooms all over the world.
Writing fiction is her first love and her work has been shortlisted for the Good Housekeeping First Novel Award, Caledonia Novel Award, and the Mslexia Novel Award.
After many years in London, Jacquie now lives in Brighton, with her partner.